Friday, February 29, 2008

Look Before You Leap-- Friday Five

On RevGalBlogPals, will smama and Songbird ask:

It's Leap Day!! Whether you're one of the special few who have a birthday only once every four years, or simply confused by the extra day on the calendar, everyone is welcome to join in and play our Leap Year Friday Five.

Tell us about a time you:

1. Leapt before looked

I often leap before I look. Even though I try to slow down and examine choices as logically as possible, in reality almost every major choice I’ve made in my life has, ultimately, been based on sheer intuition and following the call of my heart rather than carefully looking at what’s before me. And, though the end result has at times been very painful, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.

2. Leapt to a conclusion

I do that more than I’d like to remember!

3. Took a Leap of Faith

The summer I left working in a law firm to go to work as an intern in a church was a leap of faith—financially, yes, but also spiritually. Leaving my full-time teaching position so my mother could die as she wished at home was a leap of faith. My going through the ordination process despite a lot of resistance at home was a leap of faith. My staying in the Presbyterian Church now when it continues to be so homophobic and when charges keep appearing against those of us who are lgbt and lgbt-friendly feels like a continual leaping.

4. Took a literal Leap

Most unexpected, memorable leap was on Martha’s Vineyard, when my kids were about 4 and 14. We were there for the day along with two other families. We spent most of the time sailing but then someone pointed out that we were near a bridge that’s become a “jumping” rite of passage on the island. So we decided to give it a try. One by one we climbed up over the decaying wooden railing and clung to the outside of the bridge, with kids in each family taking the lead and jumping while an adult waited by the bottom of the bridge by the slippery rocks to grab any child who might not be able to climb up before being carried by the waves into the ocean. When it was our turn, my son went first. I got ready to go and discovered that letting go and taking such a leap (especially when you’re as blind as I am without my glasses) isn’t so easy. But suddenly there was a splash next to me. My 4 year old, who had just learned to swim, had climbed over the railing and jumped without waiting for me to get down below to catch her and help her up to the rocks. What could I do? I leapt!

5. And finally, what might you be faced with leaping in the coming year?

The mystery of where to leap next is what I’m trying hard to stay open to these days. You’d think after all the years of doing it, it’d get easier, but it hasn’t. But I guess it’s like W.H. Auden says in Look Before You Leap:

“ The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Plodding Into the Future

These days, while I’m trying to spent my private Lenten time focusing on ancient disciplines (like chanting, meditation, and lectio divina), much of my work time is spent trying to pull the institutions I work with into the 21st century to join the rest of us there. Churches, denominational bodies, and educational institutions seem so slow to embrace any sort of change, much less to engage actively and passionately with it. Denominationally, I serve on a committee that’s supposed to be envisioning what the church of the future might be doing and how it might be involved in the world, but instead, we’ve spent much of our time designing and then getting committees to buy into mission and value statements. Congregationally I want to find a way to use online connectivity to deepen our common life, but so far people are using it as yet one more means of doing business. And in teaching I’d like to use virtual worlds to give us new ways to build intellectual communities that go beyond the limits that geography imposes but the people I share the idea with just want to tiptoe their way into such possibilities, which meanwhile race ahead out of their reach.

I’m keeping at it. Yesterday I wanted to resign from the denominational committee, but instead lifted up some possibilities for the next church year. At the college, I’m going to be doing two workshops—one for the Faculty Seminar day and one for the Online Seminar Evening—on different aspects of virtual communities. And at South I got our group together last Tuesday to talk about how to use things like online blackboards to increase sharing and build relationships on non-church-related topics, with that kicking off this Sunday.

So we’re off like a herd of turtles and it’s plodding and frustrating!

An Early Hero

On Wednesday, when William F. Buckley died, I lost one of my unlikeliest but earliest heroes. I first ran across the writing and speeches of Buckley when I was about 16 and spent my high school and college years devouring much of what he’d then written, including his political commentaries, his Blackford Oakes spy novels, and his sailing accounts. I subscribed (much to my mother’s chagrin) to the National Review and regularly watched Firing Line. I did so, not because I found any individual piece of writing so captivating or because I agreed with what Buckley was saying. In fact, except for his comments made in 2006 about the war in Iraq, I can’t think of anything political that Buckley ever said with which I agree. Instead, I was impressed by the breadth of his knowledge and the keenness of his wit, the open and questioning tone he set on Firing Line as he listened to those—be they conservative or liberal-- with whom he engaged intellectually, and the zest he seemed to have for a true intellectual life. I look at political commentators these days and find no one else (not even George Will who seems to aspire to be Buckleyesque figure) following in the path of inquiry and intellectual debate (as opposed to the political maneuvering and snide closemindedness of most of today’s TV political commentators) that he forged. I try to think of contemporaries who live life with the kind of renaissance passion that Buckley did and I come up empty-handed. While in more recent years I’d given up reading Buckley’s writing religiously, his presence seemed to me an assurance that there were those who might yet find ways to move beyond the superficiality of things into a true dialogue of ideas. His death saddens me deeply.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Persepolis and Graphic Novels

On Monday we went to see Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s animation of her four graphic novels that came out in France starting 2000 and then were translated and spread around the world. (English translations of the first two novels came out in 2003 and 2004.) Worldwide, the film is controversial. While winning the Jury Prize at the Cannes film festival in 2007, Persepolis has been strongly condemned as Islamophobic by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some other critics have accused Satrapi of claiming to be something she's not. To me though, the film seemed a wonderful combination of autobiography and history lesson, describing Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran (during which the Shah was overthrown, the Islamic Revolution came into power, and Iran fought a war with Iraq), her high school years in Austria, her return to Iran (during which she went to college, got married, and then divorced) and her move to France (where she’s lived in self-imposed exile since). And, because it tells such a personal story, it’s also able to convey emotions—the bewilderment a child must feel in the contradictions between an open-minded home life and a repressive public life, for example—that most material we read on the period misses.

The movie does a nice job of capturing the feeling of the graphic novels, perhaps because Satrapi herself was so intimately involved with its production. Some of the more specific political comments found in the novels, such as those made about Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat when the Shah was overthrown and looking for a place to go into exile, were eliminated from the film—in the interest of time or for some other reason? Or perhaps it was the film producers resisting the temptation to use the story as a piece showing who was right or who suffered most? Instead Satrapi’s main focus in the novels-- the cost, consequences, and time that change takes and the importance of being aware of ourselves – stay center stage.

I also found myself hoping that films such as this will allow graphic novels to begin to take their rightful place in the world with other literature rather than being dismissed as high-falutin’ comics. As Satrapi herself said in an interview “Graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate. Images are a way of writing. When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw it seems a shame to choose one. I think it's better to do both.” Already some colleges are beginning to catch on to this. Hampshire College, for example, assigned Persepolis as their first year students’ common reading experience text this past fall. And several other universities—including the College of New Jersey, University of Connecticut, and George Mason University—have used the novels in women’s study courses.

I’ve got to ponder the significance of the title a little more. I know that Persepolis was the capital city of the Persian Empire, that Alexander the Great basically rode in and destroyed it, and that its ruins survive today, but I’m not yet sure how to connect that with Satrapi’s novels.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shattering Glass

Sunday after I finished with stuff at the church, we drove up to the Katonah Museum of Art to see their “Shattering Glass: New Perspectives” exhibit. Normally looking at pieces of glass doesn’t have much of an allure to me, but I’d been told by a friend that I’d find this exhibit to be different and she was right. The exhibit has 22 different artists each coming at the idea of glass from very different approaches. Some of the artists--

such as Karen LaMonte in her Dress Impressions with Drapery--used glass to capture ancient art forms in a different medium than we’d traditionally find used.

Italian artist Angelo Filomeno also combined his ongoing fascination with death and skeletons, most often done in works of embroidery, with glass in his Cold (which reminded me very much of the skeleton paintings often done on ancient church walls to remind people of their mortality).

But most of the works try to push the envelope in the way people experience the medium of glass.

Josiah McElheny, for example, plays with blown glass and two way mirrors in its attempt to capture what being a contemporary person—ever reflective, ever inward-focused-- is like. And my two favorite works in the show were a piece of glass sculpture by Mark Zirpel in which Zirpel creatively used eyeglass lens and old ash trays to have us see in a new way and Bill FitzGibbons jellyfish, made out of a combination of blown glass and neon lights.

Monday, February 11, 2008

High Priestess

You are The High Priestess

Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.

The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularily when it comes to your moods.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday Five: What Are You Doing For Lent?

Here are RevGalBlogPals Friday Five for the week:

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
Instead of Mardi Gras, my congregation and I celebrated Dimanche Gras the Sunday before—lots of bright colors, jazzy music, drumming along with communion in worship, followed by a potluck meal afterwards.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
Probably my second Lent while attending a Catholic high school. The first year really showed me what Lent was all about. By the second year, I’d sorted through the traditions and was able to apply those that fit my more Protestant upbringing.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
Not really. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches we attended mentioned Lent once or twice during the season and then focused on Palm Sunday and Easter (skipping most of holy week as well as the rest of the Lenten season). At home we gave something—usually chocolate—up for Lent. But there wasn’t much depth behind any of it. It wasn't until I was sent to Catholic school that I became aware of the liturgical seasons.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
It depends on the year and what feels most like it will help me along the wilderness journey path for the issues in my life at the time. Some years, that means giving up something that I’ve found standing in my way of practicing resurrection. Other years, it’s meant taking on something. For the last two years, for example, I’ve added the practice of keeping “fixed-hour” prayer (using Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours ).

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
Lenten devotions and prayer, meditation, and the reading of Bread and Wine along with RevGalBlogPals.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Listening for God

The book that RevGalBlogPals chose for its January 2008 read as Renita Weems’ Listening for God :A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to read it then because I was so intensely preparing for my Contemporary Issues course that got cancelled the day before it was due to start. But I finally read Weems this weekend and, though I found the work terribly uneven, overall I LOVED it. I sympathized with her struggles as both a biblical scholar and a pastor, which she describes as “making me something of a spiritual hunchback, twisting and misshaping my inner self in ways that left me at heart both a cynic and a believer.” (p. 39) I was moved by her clarity and truthfulness as she grappled with having doubt and faith at the same time: “I was never certain even when I believed. I was only certain that I believed.” (41) She wrestles with how to juggle being a minister, mother, partner, writer, and scholar without letting any of them drop and is right on the mark in her critique of male scholars who say that the only way to be a contemplative writer is to have what for women is an unrealistic luxury of leaving the ordinary, everyday world behind. And on top of it all she seems to have a fondness for May Sarton! How I ever missed Listening for God when it came out several years ago is beyond me, but I’m very grateful to RevGalBlogPals for pointing me in its direction.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Saturday we drove down to Princeton to the McCarter Theater for the world premier of Edward Albee’s Me, Myself, & I. Never having been to the McCarter before, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The setup of the theater was such that all the seats in the house seemed to have great views of the stage and tickets cost less than half of what a Broadway production usually does.

The play itself was quintessential Albee, raising issues of identity by focusing on an extremely dysfunctional family. The curtain rises on a very simple set—a large bed with nothing around it—on which is sitting Mother, played magnificently by Tyne Daly, and a lump, which we soon learn is Doctor, her lover of the past 28 years. Into the room comes OTTO to announce that he’s leaving home to become Chinese (because “the future’s in the east and I want to be in on it”) and that his brother otto no longer exists and has been replaced. We quickly get the basic identity story line: 28 years ago, Mother gave birth to identical twin boys whom she named OTTO (who matching his name is the loud “evil” twin) and otto (the kinder, more sensitive twin). Despite raising them (along with Doctor after receives the news of the twins and leaves), Mother still can’t tell them apart and needs to ask “Which one are you? Are you the one who loves me?...I never know who you are… Are you the one who hates me?” The rest of the play is made up of a series of short, hysterically funny black-out scenes, each ending with a crashing gong, as otto tries to confirm that he’s really still alive and mother and doctor explore the basis of family and identity.

While I found the ending less than satisfying, the play as a whole works very well and Daly’s acting is a delight. She carries off her character as funny, self-centered, vulnerable, childish, and at times very prejudiced. And Brian Murray, who plays the doctor who should have been an English teacher, is a great sparring partner for her. The Zoo Story will always remain my favorite Albee, but –perhaps thanks to Daly’s acting—Me, Myself, and I will be right up there with The Goat as a next favorite.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Options, options

At this week’s RevGalBlogPals’ Friday Five, the “options, options edition”, Sally asks:

First Superbowl ( someone explain to this Brit the significance)- love it or hate it?
I used to consider watching the Superbowl for the commercial breaks when many of the better commercials we’re going to see in 2008 are aired for the first time. Last year, many of these were even awful, so…now the only good thing about the Superbowl is that, once it’s over, there’s no more football on TV for a very long while!!! Hurray!!!

Second Candlemas/ Imbloc/ Groundhog day/ St Brigid's day- all of these fall on either the 1st or 2nd February.

1. Do you celebrate one or more of these?
Nope, not very often. Last year, though, I had a great time down in Little Italy celebrating the feast of San Gennaro, a 3rd century martyr. Great cannolis!

2. How?
(see 1)

3. Is this a bit of fun or deeply significant?
I think it could be fun to celebrate them—especially if they’re like the celebration for San Gerraro!

4. Are festivals/ Saints days important to you?
No, though part of me wishes they were. The idea has an appeal to it.

5.Name your favourite Saints day/ celebration.
Probably St. Francis, since I love animals and early October is a beautiful time of year in the northeastern US.